There are many people who avoid dairy for a variety of reasons, such as food sensitivity or concerns about animal welfare or the environment. However, there are many people avoiding dairy due to the belief that dairy is bad for you. Let's take a look at the nutritional and health impacts of including (or avoiding) dairy products - and uncover if dairy is actually bad for you... or not!
1. Lactose intolerance
First, let’s answer the common question: “What is lactose?”. Lactose is a type of carbohydrate found in dairy. Lactase is the digestive enzyme which helps us breaks down lactose. Lactose intolerance may arise due to lactase deficiency or lactose malabsorption. The severity of lactose intolerance differs from person to person, some individuals are able to tolerate yogurt and/or cheese while some are not able to tolerate any dairy products. This is different from an allergy to milk, where any amount of dairy will cause an immune reaction (which can be severe, such as anaphylaxis).
Common symptoms of lactose intolerance are:
Symptoms occur within a few hours after ingestion of milk, yogurt, cheese or other dairy-containing products. Diagnosis of lactose intolerance is typically made by your physician with presence of persistent symptoms and/or a hydrogen breath test. People diagnosed with lactose intolerance can enjoy a healthy, balanced diet while limiting dairy products, choosing lactose-free dairy products, or using lactase enzyme replacements.
2. Dairy is high in fat and sugar
Not all dairy products are the same in terms of nutritional content! Cheese is generally higher in fat than yogurt and flavoured yogurt and milk can have added sugars; but this shouldn’t scare you away! Dairy products contain high quality protein, as well as vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and potassium to name a few. Fermented dairy products, such as probiotic-fortified yogurt or kefir, can also be a rich source of probiotics that can benefit your gut bacteria and overall digestive health!
Here are some suggestions of dairy products to try:
plain Greek or regular yogurt (flavour yourself with berries, jam, honey, or maple syrup!)
plain fluid milk
hard or soft cheese
Try some new dairy products from other parts of the world, such as: kefir, ayran, quark, skyr, viili, and many others!
And don't forget: "When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers" (Ellyn Satter), so make sure to leave some room for the occasional ice cream or other fun dairy product too!
3. Dairy causes inflammation
There is a pervasive myth that dairy causes inflammation in the body. For those people who are allergic to dairy, this certainly would be the case! However, if you do not have a sensitivity, the consumption of dairy is actually associated with anti-inflammatory properties in humans - especially in people with metabolic disorders. Particularly anti-inflammatory dairy products are those which have been fermented, such as yogurt and cheese.
4. Milk builds strong bones
Calcium is the building block of strong bones and teeth, and dairy products are rich in calcium! Dairy can help maintain bone density, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and lower adult fracture rate. It's not just the calcium which contributes to this though; protein, vitamin D, and phosphorus, as well as the vitamin K2 in grass-fed cows, also have a positive impact on bone health. It is important to note, however, that dairy products are not the only source of bone-building nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorous - we can get these nutrients from non-dairy foods too!
We hope this article has cleared up some of the confusion surrounding dairy. While you don't need to consume dairy products to have a healthy, balanced diet - dairy products can certainly be a part of one! If you are still interested in eliminating dairy from your diet (whether due to food sensitivity, animal welfare or environment concerns, or another reason) - we'd love to help you make sure you're getting all of the nutrition you need! Book an appointment with us today.
Post contributed to by Tamara Smallwood.
Hynes, A. (2005). Them strong bones: A dairy-rich diet reduces the risk of osteoporosis. Natural Health.
Alessandra Bordoni, Francesca Danesi, Dominique Dardevet, Didier Dupont, Aida S. Fernandez, Doreen Gille, Claudia Nunes dos Santos, Paula Pinto, Roberta Re, Didier Rémond, Danit R. Shahar & Guy Vergères (2017) Dairy products and inflammation: A review of the clinical evidence, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 57:12, 2497-2525, DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2014.967385